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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Who is our real enemy?

Ghazi Salahuddin
Sunday, October 02, 2011

America has generally been our beloved infidel. It is, as the poet might say, too much with us, getting and spending. The walls of so many of our living rooms are adorned with family photographs that also present, in the background, an American landmark or landscape. It would be a rare middle-class household that has no close relative studying or settled in the United States. But in spite of these familial bonds, we remain very suspicious of American policies towards Pakistan.

This suspicion rose in a crescendo this week, in response to remarks made by Admiral Mike Mullen, the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before a Senate committee. His assertion that the Haqqani network was a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s ISI was a shattering indictment of our armed forces in the context of a professed alliance against terrorism.

It is true that Mike Mullen’s outburst had come in the wake of similar though more carefully worded accusations by other high US officials and the ‘trust deficit’ between the two countries had already risen to a critical point. But Mullen’s farewell testimony certainly touched a raw nerve, raising the prospect of a diplomatic breakdown.

It was last Sunday when our news channels abandoned their routine programmes and competed with each other with hurriedly put together talk shows, featuring the usual suspects. Suddenly, all our other troubles receded into the background and a feverish tempo was built on the possibility of a diplomatic disaster in our relations with the United States. An extraordinary meeting of the corps commanders was held in the GHQ and it lasted for six hours. One report in the New York Times spoke about “the media frenzy and warmongering”.

Our official response, too, was quite blunt. Charges that Pakistan had any connections with the Haqqani network were flatly rejected. In a commentary published in The Washington Post on Friday, David Ignatius, a writer who knows Pakistan well, reviewed the latest situation in the wake of Mike Mullen’s retirement. He said: “But surely this is a sick relationship when the partners have to go to the brink of open confrontation to get the other side to listen. If they were a married couple, you would send them to a counsellor, or, failing that, a divorce lawyer”.

Ah, but the really sick relationship that the Pakistani establishment has fostered is not with the United States but with the monster of extremism we can describe as the enemy within. It is a relationship that our rulers are not even willing to recognise as a major element in the national crisis that we are confronted with. Unfortunately, a rational debate on the state of the nation is not being held, mainly because of the dominance of intolerance and bigotry at all levels.

In any case, by the time that the All Parties Conference was held on Thursday, some diplomatic steps had been taken to bring down the temperature. The White House did not endorse Mullen’s description of ISI’s links with the Haqqani network, though it affirmed the US stance that Pakistan did have links with a network that had safe havens in North Waziristan.

As political theatre, the APC monopolised the nation’s attention for some time. But what has it achieved in real terms? Initially, it was amusing to see so many of them at the conference – around sixty leaders who sought to redefine our national security policies with direct reference to the latest tension with the United States. A large contingent, call it a regiment, represented the religious parties. You can imagine who must have written the script for the play. But the big surprise, the kind of twist that pulls the audience to a dramatic presentation, came at the end when a 13-point joint resolution was approved. And lo and behold, this resolution does not even mention the United State by name. It does not refer directly to why the conference was called in such a hurry.

That said, I am more concerned here with another omission. It does not condemn terrorism, terrorists or religious militancy. Why? It may be argued that they avoided naming the United States because they want to retain their partnership with that country. Is it the same with the Taliban and other home-grown militant outfits operating in Pakistan?

It is not my argument that the anti-American sentiment that has surged in the country, whipped up also by the religious parties, is without any reason. At the same time, it boggles the mind that no political agitation is mounted against the Taliban and other terrorist networks that have attacked our mosques and schools and have indulged in sectarian killings.

Our security forces have specifically been the target of these terrorists. And yet, there is no focus on them and no attempt to understand why Pakistan has been the worst sufferer in what was supposed to be war on terror.

Of course, the casualties that Pakistan has suffered are repeatedly highlighted to vindicate our massive contribution to the war on terror. But who are these terrorists and extremists who have left the country bleeding and in disarray? Where did they come from? Why have our rulers not been able to deal at least with militants who indulge in sectarian violence – what is happening to Shia Hazaras in Balochistan being a case in point?

In a television interview, former prime minister of Britain, Tony Blair, said that Pakistan is “paying heavily” for its mistakes in the 1970s when it starting mixing religion with politics and promoted extremism. Blair must have been out of touch with Pakistan. What began with Zia-ul-Haq has continued and has flourished. In this process, we also have the insurgency in Balochistan and recurring spells of killings in Karachi.

Do our military leaders lose any sleep pondering over the deepening sorrows of Pakistan? Do they sincerely wish to understand the causes of our present disarray? Yes, our political leaders also bear some responsibility, the ones who are sometimes in power and not the bit players who congregated on Thursday in that palace on the hill known as the prime minister’s house. However, there should be no doubt about where the real power belongs and who presides over our security and foreign policies.

Yes, it is another relationship – between the civilian and the military institutions in Pakistan – that is fundamentally flawed and problematic. We cannot ignore the fact that we have one of the largest standing armies in the world in a society that has such terrifyingly low indicators in social development. What is most crucial is that we are so insecure. Is this so because we are surrounded by men who hold guns, many of them not under any military discipline?



The writer is a staff member. Email: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail.com

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